MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) has been a mainstay in enterprise IT for years. However, as workloads shift to the cloud and organizations must be able to provide secure, reliable, and fast connectivity to mobile devices and workers in multiple, geographically distinct locations more and more frequently, MPLS is beginning to show its age. While still useful in select applications, MPLS simply wasn’t designed to meet the demands modern networks place upon it. For this reason, many enterprises are compelled by the unique business case that can be made for SD-WAN and selecting it to help them meet the challenges of modern IT.
In this piece, we’ll walk through the details of some of MPLS’s shortcomings when viewed through the lens of the modern enterprise network, and explain how SD-WAN can help organizations maximize not only their ROI on IT expenditures, but also the productivity that results from it.
Increased network capacity & availability
MPLS, while reliable, are one of the more expensive ways to purchase bandwidth. To try and work around this high cost, MPLS providers often suggest additional hardware sometimes referred to as WAN optimizers to improve performance and save on bandwidth. This approach helps alleviate the problem somewhat, but also adds complexity without solving the underlying issues with MPLS in bandwidth-hungry environments.
The software defined and extensible nature of SD-WAN inherently resolve these bandwidth problem and dramatically increase the amount of “bits per dollar” enterprises get while meeting or exceeding the availability and reliability of MPLS. This is because SD-WAN enables the aggregation of different transport types and can leverage affordable Internet services to route traffic and minimize or eliminate the cost of expensive leased MPLS links.
Additionally, since multiple concurrent WAN transports (e.g. 4G LTE, cable, ADSL, and even MPLS) can be used for dynamic WAN routing based on transport quality and unique application requirements, SD-WAN can offer availability and uptime that meets or exceeds that of MPLS. SLA-backed, enterprise-grade, cloud-based SD-WAN (a.k.a. SDWaaS) are even better positioned to leverage the economies of scale offered by the Internet given that backbones used for these solutions are provided by Tier 1 ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and multiple points of presence (PoPs) are strategically positioned to maximize uptime and enable failover in the event a given PoP goes down.
Optimized connectivity for local, remote, and mobile users
One of the biggest reasons it is difficult to make MPLS work in modern enterprise IT environments is the inherent inefficiency of backhauling traffic to corporate security appliances and trombone routing. Forcing all the traffic in an enterprise back to a central location (e.g. headquarters) so it can be processed and routed on to its destination is inefficient and leads to increased latency and reduced performance. However, this is often the norm when MPLS is the primary WAN solution. Further, MPLS makes it difficult to allow remote and mobile users to connect to resources on a corporate network. These issues are compounded in complex organizations that have grown by way of mergers and acquisitions or have satellite offices across a large geographic region.
SD-WAN, again inherently based upon its design, solves this problem. By being able to leverage multiple, software-defined WAN routing transports, users across the globe can benefit from access to a corporate network regardless of their geographic location. Additionally, the presence of SDWaaS in the cloud helps eliminate the need for complex VPN solutions to enable access to corporate resources from remote and mobile locations. If the user can access the Internet, they will be able to securely access the resources they need to do their job effectively. This can be a productivity boon when you consider the benefits of keeping employees connected. As an added benefit, the software-defined, rule-based nature of SD-WAN means enterprises can leverage these productivity gains while enhancing security.
Reduced provisioning time & costs
As alluded to in the previous point, MPLS based solutions can be complex and time consuming to scale. The programmatic, rule-based nature of SD-WAN helps significantly reduce the time it takes to onboard new locations and users. With SDWaaS in particular, the cloud-based nature of the solution eliminates the need for appliances and complex hardware configurations. Not only does this reduce the CapEX related to the hardware required for legacy WAN solutions, it helps minimize OpEX by freeing up IT resources to focus on tasks more important to core business functions.
Enhanced flexibility for cloud integrations and application migrations
Workloads in the cloud are a reality for the majority of enterprises today. This is one of the key drivers of the shift away from MPLS and towards SD-WAN. MPLS is designed to solve the problem of providing enterprises a line of connectivity dedicated to their WAN. Trying to wedge cloud applications into an MPLS-based WAN solution creates sort of a “square-peg, round-hole” situation. Traffic to and from the cloud is inherently Internet-facing and this creates a significant amount of traffic traversing a corporate network in a way MPLS wasn’t built for. With an MPLS solution, traffic will be inefficiently backhauled through a specific endpoint (usually at a corporate datacenter), before heading on towards the Internet.
SD-WAN on the other hand, can be agnostic to the underlying transport method and enable organizations to efficiently route traffic between endpoints and cloud applications & services like Office 365, AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and more. This enables enterprises to migrate to and from the cloud in a fluid and efficient manner and route traffic in the most efficient way possible given the specific requirements of a given use case. Additionally, modern solutions like Firewall as a Service (FWaaS) complement SDWaaS, further extending functionality and security.
The takeaway: SD-WAN has compelling business benefits for modern IT
MPLS has been a big part of enterprise WAN for a long time, however the challenges posed by a shift to the cloud and increased mobile usage are not ones MPLS was designed to solve. By using a WAN built around SD-WAN, enterprises can equip their networks to meet the challenges of modern IT in a way that makes sense when it comes to the bottom line.